In most of my writing the victim’s identity is not an issue. In these Norwegian cases I am not sure who the victim was nor if they were in turn up to dark deeds themselves.
The Brief Circumstances
Here are three cases spread over almost 25 years that are very similar. A couple of women are found in Norway. Both are discovered in circumstances that are declared likely suicide. The issue is both have had efforts made to disguise who they were and to this day neither have been identified. Then there is the case of a man in his 60s who also ends up dead minus all normal means of identification. All three cases are still a mystery today.
Taking a wider look across the globe the details that surround these people, and their last days, are found mirrored. Clothing without labels, false names and connections with parts of the world a long distance from where they died.
The Isdal Woman
This is a very famous case. Without going over everything that you may have read it is almost impossible to tell the tale. So here goes a try at being brief:
Isdalen is near Bergen. The translation is Ice Valley but it is known locally as ‘Death Valley’ because of the number of suicides that have taken place over the years.
In the winter every valley in that part of the world could be called Ice Valley I guess, but this particular one became the unfortunate scene of a half century long investigation.
In this particular location, on 29th November 1970, the body of a woman in her 30s was found in a very sorry state. She was about 5 ft 4 inches tall ( 164cm) and later advances have suggested she was originally German, born around 1930, but had a French education. This education and residence could have been in Belgium.
There is a report that in 2018 someone came forward to say they had had a relationship with her a long time ago. At the time this person had suspected she was a spy . She apparently had taken many long distance calls, changed her appearance and she had been vague about her background. However, the account has not led to a positive identification of Isdal Woman.
Another witness came forward many years later to say they had seen her in the days before her death. This witness saw her with two ‘southern’ looking men walking in the countryside. He described the woman as looking resigned to her fate. He also claimed he had reported this sighting after news of her death. He was told to forget about it.
This lady died in an unusual way. The post mortem said she had ingested upwards of 50 sleeping tablets and her body was extensively burned. There was soot in her lungs which meant she was alive while burning.
Isdal Woman was not found in the remains of a fire. She was in among rocks. Other items there included, a watch, boots, umbrella, some jewellery and plastic water bottles. The bottles had been affected by heat and successful efforts had been made to remove any identifying features from everything.
In later enquiries this lady was traced to some degree. She used different passports and travelled around Europe. In particular she had wandered around Norway. In Bergen itself she stayed in various hotels. She often changed rooms shortly after checking in and wore wigs. On documents where she was required to provide some details she changed them from place to place. The only constant was she said she was from Belgium.
Suitcases were found at a railway station and they belonged to the dead woman. Effort to eradicate signs of the item’s origins had been repeated there. Witnesses said they had heard the woman speaking German, French and broken English. She was also described as seeming on her guard while staying anywhere.
The case was largely closed down for a while. It has since been continually resurrected both officially and following high profile media projects.
Oslo Plaza And Jennifer Fergate ( Fairgate)
In 1994 a woman booked into the Plaza Hotel in the capital. She was about 5 ft 2 inches, dark haired and blue eyed. She had a male companion with her who used the same surname but after that he was not seen again. She is reported as being a bit heavy at about 147 pounds and at least ten years younger than the Isdal Woman.
She was said to be able to speak German and English but claimed to have been from Belgium. She gave an address in the country on her registration card. The street and small village existed, but the number of house was wrong.
During her stay she remained largely in her room though was absent for a 20 hour period. On Saturday 3rd June, at just before 8 am, a gunshot was heard from her room. A short time later a second shot rang out. A security guard gained entry to the room and found ‘Jennifer’ dead.
The woman had died from a gunshot wound to the head. She was lying face up on the bed, fully dressed. Both electronic keys were in the room along with over 20 rounds for the Browning 9mm pistol she had used. There was no passport present, the gun had had attempts to remove its serial numbers and the cops believed the suicide was planned.
The problem was she had used an unusual grip in order to shoot herself. The gun was still in her hand and forensic experts since have pointed out the gun would have sprung from her grasp. This is not a low powered, light weight pistol. As for my two cents worth I have fired a lot of handguns. Even with my huge hands that gun would need to have the recoil controlled. Given this lady’s grip, which involved bending the wrist and extending her fingers, the forensic experts are right on the money. To top that no blood was found on her hand or the weapon though it was everywhere else.
As with her predecessor, clothing had had the origin disguised. In fact she had very little lower half clothing at all. It begs the question had they not got to those labels so the whole lot had to disappear?
The same Isdal pattern was repeated. Across Europe her picture was circulated but it brought no significant information. The couple had shown no identification when they checked into the hotel.
This poor guy mirrors many of the mysterious aspects that were present in the cases of the two women. There are some differences, however, that are over and above the age and gender of the deceased.
In September 1987 a body was found near a railway line. The route ran between Kambo and Moss. Both these places are south of the capital, Oslo. The dead man was minus an arm and a foot. It was quickly determined his death was as a result of injuries from a train. A freight locomotive and load had gone through in the early morning. The staff had seen a man fitting the description of the deceased. He had been standing close to the tracks.
So no mystery there? Suicides were known to happen on this stretch and generally many poor souls have ended their time in this way worldwide.
The issue was, as in the case of the women, identification. All but one label on his clothes was missing. There was no passport or other documents. His picture was circulated via Interpol and there were no family clamouring to say he was theirs.
He was wearing two particular items that stand out. He had on hospital style compression socks. Those open toe garments that you are issued with to prevent blood clots forming in your lower legs. When the post mortem was performed he was found to have been in pretty good health prior to the injuries. So why the socks?
DNA And Further Enquiries
All of those cases got nowhere at the time. There is mention of collusion and details that are missing that should have been obvious lines of enquiry. The thing I try and remember though is all the accounts I read are not from evidence files. They are from accounts by journalists. I do try and weed out the worst and I particularly look for quotes from official sources. Unfortunately all these people died long before the internet became what it is so accounts are all over the place.
What is in evidence are the later efforts to use science to solve the issue of identification.
All three subjects have had different DNA processes applied to them. In addition, extensive enquiries have been followed through about the manufacture and origin of their clothing.
The two women have had DNA extracted that confirms their rough ages. Isdal woman was born around 1930 ( plus or minus 4 years), Plaza woman was born around 1970. Both have historical DNA traits that place them as being German or close to German.
Kambo Man was wearing clothing that was probably purchased in Germany and a pack of cigarettes he had were manufactured for the East German market. A picture has been submitted that suggests he is a Swiss man who disappeared a decade before the incident on the Norwegian railway. As far as I know this is still just a possibility though. Curiously his clothing was washed by the authorities so DNA was harder to find on the items. The nasty way he died did leave blood on his shoes and the cigarette pack.
There have been no direct matches. There are likely areas of origin ranging from Germany to as far a field as Colombia. It should be said that the South American possibility is still in relation to communities with German ancestry.
NB: I read that the reason his clothing was washed was to do with what tracker dogs needed regarding scent. I didn’t understand the connection but it might be legitimate and understood by you. If so please drop me a line.
Spies Or Drugs Or What?
The Isdal woman died at the height of the Cold War. This was a slow, almost passive aggressive, period in world history. The USSR ( now Russia) and the West ( primarily USA) played a form of chess for about 45 years. The pieces of this game were financial, political, military and spy led.
Norway is on the front line that was rumbling between East and West. Back in the day I recall high level discussion of how the USSR would try and invade Norway. The idea was they may try and unlock access to the Atlantic and want to disable missile systems.
All of it was mostly power play between the various nations and ultimately it came to nothing though they are all still playing power games now. The point is all of the circumstances of the Isdal Woman’s life and death look very cloak and dagger.
The Plaza woman had a male companion who disappeared and very few bits of clothing for her lower half. What she did have had identification marks removed. There was no passport and her details were false. In addition, she had lots of bullets for the pistol she used. This lady could have been involved in a range of illegal activity which would have been low down on the radar decades before. Principally I am thinking of large drug deals or illegal financial dealing or even Middle Eastern based terrorism.
By the time Plaza woman died the USSR was no more, but Desert Storm and the new age of emerging conflict from that region was in its ascendance. In other words espionage is one possibility in a crowd of others.
As one expert pointed out (in the recent Netflix documentary) the fact the door to her room was double locked from the inside does not mean specialists could not have carried out her murder. There are ways of doing that apparently.
As for the Kambo Man and spying? On the one hand we have the same ID issues. We have the same wide appeals for information. Nothing came back. As with the women we have the German connections and Kambo Man shares another similarity with Isdal Woman, the Cold War was still on.
The area in which he died did have a couple of military installations which were rather sensitive. I have read one of them had experienced problems with Eastern European people turning up in suspicious circumstances. Some even used diplomatic plates. As a result none Norwegians were told to stay clear.
Kambo man does not appear to share his method of entry to the country with the women. Also the manner of his death is less mysterious. Had he simply been on the run from a crime and tried to jump on the freight train that had passed him?
We either have dark special ops forces in Norway wiping out spies or we have people up to no good dying from their own misery. The choice is yours.
My Take And Some Details That Stand Out
A tale has emerged from a trucker who lived in the area of Kambo. He says he did not particularly note the death of a man on the railway in 1987. He only lived a short distance away, but he worked all over Europe. In addition, there were a series of suicides over the years on the railway.
To this man the death of another person on the tracks would have been nothing more than a brief word between visits home. Years later the issue of Kambo Man was highlighted which presumably made the trucker think a bit more on it.
He now recalls that the day before Kambo Man died he arrived home in his truck. It still had a load onboard from Italy. He was to drive to Oslo the following day to deliver it.
During the journey he had noticed someone had cut a hand sized hole in the side of the heavy tarp that covered his trailer. He did not pay too much attention. Once home he went to bed. The following day he saw a human sized hole had been cut in the tarp.
At that point he thought he had been subject of a theft but on close examination the load was intact. He went about his business. Where he had parked his truck you could see the railway that later played host to Kambo Man’s death.
The suggestion is that the dead man had got onto the truck at some stage and waited out the journey. As the side of the truck was secured the most logical place for stowing away would have been in Italy.
These days from Northern Italy ( I don’t know where in Italy the load was placed on the truck) to Moss/ Kambo is about a 22 hour drive. The most direct route means taking a ferry across from Denmark to Norway. The trucker could have been on a longer route of course. The type of wagon that was driven seems to have been a ‘curtain sider.’ They are easy to access from the outside but hard to re secure once you are in.
So if the truck was last undone in Italy and a person sized hole appeared in Moss/Kambo it is likely that the maker of the hole sat through (possibly) three days of travel. The hand sized hole could have been used to dump human waste out while on the move. A knife was found on Kambo Man and sitting for days in a cramped space makes sense of the compression socks.
Isdal Woman appears to me to be the clearest spy type killing in all of these three. I certainly don’t buy the straight suicide theory that was the official line. At least I do not buy it easily.
Plaza Lady? She could have been involved in a lot of different dangerous activities but international collusion and secrecy seems impossible to rule out. The way she booked into the place without payment and proper registration is pretty weird. Having a big gun and lots of bullets, a companion that disappears, along with false names etc point at more than criminal behaviour.
There is a range of activities that might motivate intelligence services to step in. This could be to end a situation or remove any embarrassment that might follow someone messing about in their territory. So was Plaza Lady a spy? Someone knows, but it isn’t me.
Kambo Man? His actions strike me more as a guy on the run than a spy. That is if you count IN the story of hitching a stowaway lift on a truck. Without that account you still have a hobo sort of character in the style of Jack London. I appreciate Jason Bourne ( the fictional spy) had to go on the run from his own murderous agency, but if Kambo Man was a Jason Bourne he was an older, down on his luck version.
The stories are horrific and fascinating. The reporting might be skewed by people over the years to make it all look more furtive than it is. Maybe they all wanted to be gone and the two women killed themselves in a carefully planned way so that they figuratively disappeared.
There is an outstanding case from Ireland that is worth a look. Peter Bergmann is not the name of a man who died of natural causes in 2009. The male, in some ways like the people we have been discussing, had no identification when he was found washed up on the Irish coast. The name Bergmann is the false name he used in the days leading to his death.
He had been staying in a Sligo hotel and is reported to have been about 60 years of age. His heavy German accent was noted. A post mortem showed this guy had many serious health issues and it is believed he died of a heart attack. Notably he has not been traced and I have read that the Irish police did not make much effort to trace him outside of Ireland.
In Australia you can find the case of the Somerton Man. This story is often referred to as the Tamam Shud case. In 1948 the man in the image was found dead on a beach. He was in a seated position as if he had had too much to drink and had merely slumped down.
The issue was, as we have come to expect, he had no identification and the labelling in his clothes was missing. Despite all the years and many attempts he has never been identified. Like many others the suspicion of espionage and dark spy type activity is talked about.
Have a look at it yourself, but in this case there seems to be a more personal connection between this man and a family in the area. His death is a bit of a mystery anyway as it looks like he died of poison. Self administered or by the hand of someone else is not clear. As I understand it there is currently an attempt to produce DNA to try and put this Australian mystery to rest.
So is Norway the place that spies go to die? It is intriguing to think of the place as a hub of espionage. If I was a spy I would be happy enough hanging around there. It is a place of contrasts that hangs on the edge of Europe. Oslo for example is like a street by street art gallery in places.
The proximity to the former USSR fits all manner of scenarios that we could attach to the three main cases. Sadly when all comes to pass we do not know. In the case of the women, it looks likely that they were involved in something that could have brought about a nation’s dark side. Which nation? Why? Well I guess if they are as professional as they seem to be…We will never know.
What do you make of it all?
Update: July 2022. solid claims that the Somerton Man has been identified from hair taken from the plaster cast the cops made of his face. A gent called Webb. Doesn’t look like he was a spy. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/07/26/australia/australia-somerton-man-mystery-solved-claim-intl-hnk-dst/index.html